By Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson
In Alabama, April is Confederate History Month.
Now let me say up front that I have a problem with giving a whole month to any particular group. Not that I am opposed to recognizing the historical significance of what a particular group has done, but rather that it seems to suggest that the group can be justifiably ignored for the rest of the year.
But Confederate History Month it is, and because it is, being a historian and all that, I feel the urge to comment on things Confederate.
Among the things I treasure is a letter written by my great-grandfather, George Fontaine.
Fontaine was an officer in the 38th Alabama Regiment, CSA.
It was 1865. He had seen his family only a few times since he enlisted three years earlier. During those years his parents aged, his children grew, his wife coped.
He had fought, was wounded, recovered, and now was at Blakely, near Mobile, waiting for what would be one of the last battles of a war he knew would soon be over.
The letter, like most soldiers’ letters, is not a particularly remarkable document. Most fathers in the 38th could have written one like it. Or in either army. Or, for that matter, in any army ever.
Which is why I offer it to you as my contribution to Confederate History Month.
Just a reminder that there was more to that war, or any war, than fighting.
Blakely Ala Sunday
March 12th 1865
My Darling little Daughter,
I have been writing a long letter to your Mamma today and did not tell anything to tell you so I will write you a letter & send it in Mamma’s letter – Pa loves his little daughters & he wishes to see them so much – Daughter you must be a good child for your Pa and Mamma – You must be good to your little Sister and not fight her – you must love her a great deal & kiss her when you get this letter and tell her it is a kiss Pappa sends her in your letter – you must kiss Mamma and Grand Pa for me too. Daughter you must be good to Mamma and Grand Pa and do what they tell you – Tell Grand Pa that Pappa says he will write him a letter next time he writes to Mamma – Tell him Pa says he wants to see him “mity bad” – You must get Mamma to learn you to spell and read and then you can learn to write Pa a letter – When I come home I will bring you a nice little book if you will be smart & learn to read. You shall [faded] a spool of thread and [some] nice needles too when you learn to sew –
Tell “Buddy” Pa says she must be good to you and sister and make as much corn and Potatoes and ground Peas as she can – You must be smart and hand Mamma the broom & water and do everything her & grand Pa tells you – You must be good to Mollie and not fight her – When you see cousins Bellie, Emma, Mattie & Fannie you must tell them that Pappa wrote you a letter – You must get Mamma to write you a letter to Pappa & tell me how you are getting along learning your letters – Pappa is not sleeping on the ground and in the cold here like he did in Tenn. – I have a good house to sleep in and have plenty of meat and bread to eat. You must be mighty good to Grand Pa for giving you and Mamma and sister Mollie such a good house to live in and such good victuals to eat – You must get Mamma to write me how many little chickens you have and how many blossoms you have in your little garden – Tell Sister Millie Pappa says he wants to hear her sing “Turkey pie” – Tell her she must kiss Mamma and Grand pa for me too – You must help Mamma to feed the hogs and cows – Tell “Bulley” he must be a smart boy & carry feed Ball & crachet & the cows like I showed him while I was at home – Be a good child Daughter & say your prayers every night –
This is from your Pa who loves you very much.
Two weeks later the fighting began, again.
And the Confederates lost, again.
Then there was the slogging retreat, marching backward, not sure exactly if they were running away from a fight or toward one, until they were cornered near Citronelle.
When the 38th left Mobile in the spring of 1863, they were over 800 strong. Less than 100 were there to surrender in May of ’65.
George Fontaine was one of them.
Not long after that he went home.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.